Chris Clemons has 36 sacks over the last 3 years, which ranks among the best in the NFL over the span. He’s also been among the best in getting pressure on QBs, even when he wasn’t able to get the sack. His 9.6% in pass rush efficiency in 2012 was also among the best the NFL.
But for Clemons, our expectations for 2013 have little to do with what his past performance says about his ability level. The question is: “How much will Clemons play, if at all?” Clemons tore his ACL in the playoff game against the Redskins last season. That’s an injury that can take more than a year before a player gets back to full strength.
Adrian Peterson’s miracle recovery from a similar injury a year ago has many fans thinking that all players can get back on the field and be successful that quickly. That simply isn’t the case. While today’s surgical procedures can get players back on the field faster than ever, the normal recovery time continues to be about 10 months (from the date of the surgery, not the date of the injury). For Clemons, that means he should be ready around week 12.
Of course, that’s only if his recovery is “normal.” He is reportedly ahead of schedule, but just how far ahead of schedule is unknown. Then again, every player who has surgery early in the offseason is always “ahead of schedule” at this point, many of those players don’t end up returning from their injury any earlier than was previously expected. I tend to ignore those reports until we actually see the player on the field working out, and we’ve yet to see that with Clemons.
Given the forces involved in pushing on 300 lb offensive linemen on every play, it’s difficult to believe that Clemons will be back as early as most fans want him to be. Any reasonable expectation wouldn’t have him back on the field before week 8 under any circumstances.
That is why I believe that Clemons will begin the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. That designation means that Clemons will be out until at least week 8, but it allows the team to use his roster spot for another player while they wait for him to fully recover.
The PUP list rules have changed since last season. In the past, teams had to “activate” a player for practice no later than week 10. After that, they had just 2 weeks to either place them on the 53 man roster, or put them on Injured reserve and end their season. This year, the deadline for moving players either to the active roster or IR isn’t until week 15. That gives the Seahawks much more flexibility as they wait for Clemons to get healthy.
Of course, all of this matters very little when you look at the history of players who are activated off the PUP list mid-season. By the time players on the PUP list are activated, most teams will have already stopped practicing in pads for the year. A player simply can’t get into football game shape by participating in walkthroughs and light padless workouts.
Not only does that make it tough on PUP listed players to get back onto the field, but it also attributes to a very high re-injury rate.
That is why few, if any, players coming off the PUP ever have much of an impact on their team’s season. Remember that being on the PUP list means that the player cannot practice. Clemons will have missed training camp , the preseason, and 8+ weeks of practice. It will be extremely difficult for Clemons to get his body ready for the beating that is part of playing football on Sundays.
Put all of this together, and my expectations for Clemons in 2013 are extremely low. If he can get back on the field in a minimal role, like as a situational pass rusher, by the time the playoffs begin I think we should be happy with that.
The real key is that he doesn’t get injured again. The Seahawks want him back and ready for 2014.